One of my favorite rites of spring is visiting the Smithsonian Craft Show at the National Building Museum in Washington DC. Here, for four days each April, can be found one of the most dazzling juried shows and sales of American fine craft in the country. This year’s exhibition features the work of 121 artists, each selected from a pool of over a thousand applicants for creativity, innovation and mastery of material. The Smithsonian Craft Show artists are the best of the best, and we at Artful Home are honored that 24 of our artists have been selected to show at this amazing event.
As I enter the National Building Museum, I am wowed by the history and beauty of the place itself. Corinthian columns rise 75 feet and arcaded galleries surround a soaring exhibition hall. The ceilings float four stories above the exhibition floor in a design inspired by Roman palaces. The museum has been the site of 16 Presidential inaugural balls and today, nestled within this inspirational space, are the booths of artists, each lit to show the art work at its best, and glistening with the brilliance of glass, the shine of metal, the warmth of wood, the intricacy of wearable art.
In glass, I visit the booths of Brian Becher, Carrie Gustafson, and Fred Kaemmer. Each of these glass artists has a visual voice that is identifiable the moment you see their work. In his Color Weave vessels, Brian Becher seems to weave with glass rods, creating swirling networks of overlapping colored lines.
Fred Kaemmer is known for the placement of silver leaf on the inside of his blown glass vessels. The silver fuses with the underside of the glass to create unexpected and beautiful patterns of color, luminous from the inside out.
Carrie Gustafson creates her pieces by first blowing layers of colored glass into sculptural shapes. After the glass has cooled, she applies an intricate web of hand-cut stencils. When she hand-sandblasts each surface, she cuts through the opaque outer shells of color to reveal translucent under-layers, breath-taking in their complexity.
Richard Judd’s amazing chairs and tables beckon to me in the furniture section. With forms that range from perfect spirals to undulating waves, Richard’s chairs and tables are as beautiful in person as they are in photographs. The veneers of carefully matched hardwoods help to create pieces rich with personal presence. I breathe deeply in his booth, at love with the perfect simple shapes and the wood that seems to take life beneath his hands.
In wearable art, I find myself drawn to the booth of Amy Nguyen. Amy’s work is an unbelievable combination of traditional fiber technique paired with innovative cutting and piecing. She begins each piece with plain white cloth, which she folds and dyes, stitches and manipulates, until deep rich color and layers of texture unfold. Amy Nguyen creates silhouettes of apparel that seem ancient and brand-new at the same moment, and her booth is a wonderland of inspiration.
In the jewelry section of the show, I wander from booth to booth, exploring the treasures that rest within each display case. Pat Flynn’s bracelets and earrings contrast gold with oxidized metal, and gleam with tiny gemstones and the shimmer of diamonds.
Steven Ford and David Forlano create wonders with polymer clay –hollow innovative forms of oxidized silver and color that spiral, layer, ripple, and weave with a rhythm of their own.
Kate Cusack’s statement bracelets and neckpieces are inspired by zippers, from which she creates the sculptural forms that are an amazing juxtaposition of the commonplace with sheer elegance.
Ashley Buchanan references historic jewelry motifs with flat metal cut into ornate patterns and finished using the industrial process of powder coating.
From the modern asymmetrical brilliance of Christy Klug’s silver necklaces to the colorful 3-D printed earrings of Maria Eife, to the playful felted brooches of Danielle Gori-Montanelli, to the hand-forged and fabricated chains of Ken Loeber and Dona Look, I get lost in the intricate and focused visions of these artists who create miniature sculptures to wear.
I finish the show at the booth of Meg Little, who seems to almost paint with wool yarn to create her hand-tufted rugs. The luxuriousness of color and pattern that pulls you into her booth pales next to the sumptuous feel of the rugs beneath your hands (and feet). Her booth is a celebration of the everyday in what may be the ultimate luxury of art. After hours of walking from booth to booth, I want nothing more than to rest on the softness of these surfaces.
When the temperatures warm and the days lengthen, and the cherry blossoms begin to bloom around the Tidal Basin, I know it is time to travel to Washington D.C. for a different visual treat. The Smithsonian Craft Show is one of the best places I know to revel in American ingenuity and craftsmanship of the highest degree. Each year I am inspired by the fine work and the unique and powerful artistic visions, and I leave reassured that the future of American fine craft is in good (and brilliant) hands.